This is an effort to document a very significant episode of my life which changed me in a few ways, but more importantly, it gave me the fondest memory that I look back at during what poets call the "dark hours". However, like P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, my problem has always been to coin the beginning of a story. So, here let me just go back a little before the point which others might choose to call the beginning.
In school, we all tend to remember ourselves as people who are very different from the characters we are today. Some of us like to block out the events that took place in school because of who we were. For me, well, I am the eternal optimist. I do not ever look back at even the worst experiences of my life with regret. I truly believe that I am who I am because of every single minute little thing that happened to me.
It was in a sixth standard literature class that I had learnt something: “Everything happens for our own good.” And I believe it to the hilt even today. It makes me retain faith. So, in school I was this super playful, hyper, restless and very difficult to pin down kid who was loved by her teachers in spite of her restless ways. My teachers had only one complaint: “You have so much potential, you are so intelligent, if only you would study and work for better grades”. Yeah, I got a kick out of that review. Never felt bad about it. I knew I could do it if I wanted to. But I was a conqueror even then. Once I got something I wanted, I lost all interest. Instantaneously. But, it was the review I got from my friends that always managed to make me proud and super buoyant. You see, I was a very tall (taller than other kids of my age) and thin girl who was feminine and athletic at the same time. So, the mothers of my friends always cited my example to them and said how covetable that was. It gave me such a high. I would smile all the time. But even then, in spite of my vanity related to my looks, I always managed to strongly believe that physical beauty can only carry you so far. It is what is inside that matters. Think I was naïve? Well, I still am. But we digress. After my thin and lanky stint at school, came my slightly healthy stint in highschool.
You see, by the time I went to highschool, I had stopped learning the Indian classical dance form of Kathak, stopped playing basketball, was operated on due to appendicitis and had stopped worrying about the way I looked. Really. But even then, I was never out of dates or guys who wanted to take me out. So, my belief in a beautiful inside was strengthened, which subsequently made me bone-lazy. Yes, I really stopped caring about my weight by then. And because I am genetically coded to put on weight from my mother’s side, it did not take much time for me to weigh heavier on the scales.
By the time I was in college, I was in a super steady relationship. If complacence would find a place in the list of Sins, I would be listed first under it. Of course, Gluttony and Sloth being my other primary rotten planks. My guy was a very supportive person. He never complained about my weight initially and I took it as it should not have been taken. Love. What I never chose to see was that may be he is waiting for me to see reason and work on my mounting pounds. Anyway, with time came subtle complaints from him, the subtlety then gave way to clear whining which just became more intense, but me being me, I never heard him out. I snubbed him then and there. By the time I was in the University, 90% of my clothes did not fit. I wore huge sheets of cloth sewn together and still managed to justify myself. I had also started to resemble Captain Haddock. If he drank nothing but whiskey, I drank nothing but colas. I always had a cola bottle in my college bag. In fact, there was a family joke doing the rounds then, wherein my brother said that if anybody cuts open my hand, aerated drinks would spill out instead of blood.
By now, my father, who also happens to be my pillar and biggest supporter in life, was telling me to start going for walks and increase my physical activity quotient. I managed to just give excuses and get away for most of one and a half years. I was beginning to realise that things were not what they used to be for me. Also, for the first time in my life, I was beginning to get judged on the basis of my weight. It cut me to the core of course, but I kept up a very defiant and brave front. You see, I have never had a problem with criticism. I take it in and then build on it. As a person, I am never rude even when I am telling someone an unpleasant truth. I word my sentences very carefully. But when it came to me, people were outright rude and obnoxious. Some of the things they said were really cruel and that worked in the reverse way for me. I started my personal crusade to prove that there are still people out there who care about a good heart and not how fat you are.
Obviously, this belief had more to it. But, I did not realise it back then. You see, it was also stemming from the fact that I liked to gorge on food without monitoring it, I liked being lazy and I was in a relationship with a devoted, loving person who cushioned every blow aimed at me as far as he could.
And then came October 2008. It was the month that knocked the air out of me. What happened you ask? The real story unfolds from here on.
You see, I was the part of a trio since college. Sanjana, Tanya and me were inseparable. Whatever one did, the other two did it too. And Sanjana suddenly decided to drop a bomb on us when she announced that she was slated to get married in January 2009. I was happy and terrified at the same time. You see, I am gamophobic. The concept of marriage scares the hell out of me. However much I try to make peace with this marvelous institution, I always end up at the verge of getting institutionalised myself. And here, my best pal was doing it. After much ado and reasoning, I finally asked her what she wanted as a wedding gift. Her answer was gut-wrenching. Here are her exact words from that evening,
You need to reach your ideal weight in keeping with your height before my wedding on 29th January 2009. I will buy clothes for you to wear on my special day which will only fit you if you lose weight and you can only wear what I buy for you. I know it sounds difficult and cruel. People will judge me for it. I do not care. I have a beautiful friend who is ignoring her health and she should stop. Now you take the call.
I sat there numb for a full 15 minutes and could not feel a thing. I was at that moment exactly 85 kilograms and to reach my ideal weight of 60 kilograms, I had exactly 95 days and no plan! Panic does not envelope you when these things happen. You just go numb. After some fuzzy rumination, I told her that I will do everything in my power to give her the wedding gift. I did not believe it.
I came back to Pune after that. I was mortified of letting my best friend down. She had never asked me for anything before this. More importantly, nobody had ever asked for a more queer gift in my life. Suddenly, I was the most important person in someone else’s life. You see, after being snubbed by others for years, you tend to doubt yourself. Thousands of people had criticised me for growing fat before this, nobody had actually taken a step forward to encourage me to lose those pounds. It was like people laughing at you for not being able to use the T9 option for mobile messaging but not taking the initiative to teach you how to use it right then and there (this actually happened to me quite a few times, until Arjun, now an ex-colleague, taught me how to use T9 hands-on). Sanjana could have asked me for anything in the world. She just asked for my good health. This was the biggest push for me. Negative criticism never works for me. NEVER. This was the most exhilarating feeling ever.
But, the biggest problem remained. How do I do it? I did not have the money for gyms or dietitians. Neither did I want to coerce my dad for more money. I was a student, so I wasn’t working. What was the course of action to be taken? Well, God does have his own ways of facilitating things for you when you really want something.
I had this other friend at the university who was actually fatter than me. She was huge really. We were super close friends and literally lived every second together. She had suddenly also woken up to her size and wanted to lose the pounds desperately. Her parents were very well-off and had gotten her in touch with this expert dietitian who took up her case. Now, our concept of a diet is very inhibited. The word “diet” immediately triggers a tendency to enlist the things we cannot eat. For my pal, she was surprised to know that she could consume everything – from burgers to chicken tikka to noodles to wine. The trick was to portion her meals and stick to meal timings vigilantly. Every week had a separate menu, so she never got bored of what she ate. For the first time in life, she was told about the importance of the number of colours one sees on one’s plate. My friend was hooked. And the diet was doing wonders for her health. She was put on no drugs or shakes of any kind – herbal or otherwise. All she had to do was eat everything she wanted, but make it at home and portion it correctly.
When she heard about my case, she immediately told me all about the food she was eating. She gave me the entire chart week-wise and shared the tiniest tip her dietitian gave her. I really could not believe all this was happening. She knew I would never be able to pay her or share the cost of her dietitian and yet she held back nothing. She seemed more psyched than me about this entire thing. I did not understand it. Had I become that cynical about the nature of human beings that all good gestures seemed shocking? It was like the entire cosmos was conspiring to get me back to fitting into all my clothes.
The date was set. 11th November, 2008 was to be the day from which I was to change my gastronomical ways. On the night of the 10th, two of my other good friends – Prashant and Pareen – took me out for dinner. It was my last lavish meal before the days of abstinence started. I was allowed to eat everything that I wanted. Even with all their good wishes for the great sojourn I was about to jump into, they did show some doubts with regards to how far I would be able to crusade on. But I was adamant. Something in me had changed in the last few days.
And then it was on. The first week was the toughest of them all. I was actually struggling to keep myself buoyant and happy for the first time in my life. I had not realised over the years when from “Eat to Live”, I had gone to “Live to Eat”! The reversal in the equation hit me hard. I had to come back from French class every evening, actually cook my dinner and eat. Eating out was not an option anymore. Neither was lethargy. I had to keep everything ready for breakfast the next morning. I had to go shopping for my larder regularly. I had to manage everything so that my mealtimes were never affected. Earlier, if I had a class at 9 am, I usually got up at 8.15, rushed through everything, skipped breakfast and arrived panting to class. Now, I actually had to get up at 7 am, eat patiently, chew every morsel a hundred times, cook lunch, do everything else peacefully and reach class early. Compromise was an extinct word for me. Of course, it was not easy. But then, who said life will always be easy? I loved the newer challenges with every pore in my body. The adrenaline rush was unbelievable.
Gradually and inadvertently, lifestyle changes started to creep in. Suddenly I had more time to do everything, was so much more alert and vigilant, doing everything on time which subsequently led to no leftover tasks. Most amazingly, I was always full of energy. I could climb a five-storey building and not pant at all! The feeling was Utopian.
Bit by bit, I started to notice the changes that were taking place all around me. I was saving money like crazy with controlled eating out. I decided to take this a notch upwards. I slowly started to walk to every destination of mine that was within a range of three kilometres. I walked to my French class everyday and walked back. So, three kilometres up and three kilometres down. I walked to my friend’s house everyday. That meant walking another four kilometres. I walked to college, to movie theatres, to meet my friends and basically everywhere I could manage. This meant that I was walking 10 kilometres on an average on a daily basis. Not only was I saving on transportation money, I was losing weight fast and not at the cost of my well-being. I was on fire! Naturally, everyone else started to notice the changes all over. My skin was all shiny and my hair was not falling off in bunches. I was fitting into clothes that had not fit me for ages! And the best thing was that I could finally see myself being able to completely stay without junk food. No greed. People could eat food laden with cheese and mayo in front of me and I would not even feel the urge to take the smallest bite. It was not forced. The disinterest to live unhealthily was genuine.
The response was unbelievable. I got compliments all the time. From random strangers at times. My friends were shocked at the sudden change they saw in me. And I could actually shop to my heart’s content with all the money I was saving. The truth was, I was in LOVE. In love with myself. I loved being in control of my body and my time and resources. By the end of December, I decided to go home to Kolkata for a week. Christmas day also happens to be my dad’s birthday and I just wanted to be with him. As I got off the train and waited for my father to come receive me, it did not strike me even once that my father might not be able to recognise me. I saw him walking towards me and I smiled. I was glad to see the familiar face. But, wait. He just glanced at me and then continued walking past me without stopping. As if he did not know his daughter. Wait a minute! My dad could not recognise his daughter at 67 kilos!!! I called out to him, he turned slowly and the expression on his face was to die for. I will never forget it. It was shock and joy and disbelief and ecstasy all mixed together. He could not believe it. It was one of the best moments of my life.
You think awesome things can happen to you only once. But it happened to me again. You see, I went to meet my boyfriend the next morning. We were going to see each other after three whole months and I was a little nervous. And then it happened. My guy just walked past me and failed to recognise his girlfriend of 7 years! Oh, the joy! The Glory!
That week taught me a lot of things about myself. That I could go home, eat all the food my heart desired and not overeat consciously was a phenomenon unknown to me earlier. Here’s how I did it – if I had a pastry outside in the evening, I would come back home and eat only three slices of fish for dinner. Nothing else. That way, I did not stay hungry, got to eat both fish and dessert – both of which I wanted to eat, and stayed true to my eating plan! I was not on a compensation diet, mind you. That simply meant that I was not asked to starve myself the next day if I overate one evening, just to compensate. I was allowed to feel happy about whatever I ate, make peace with it and carry on with life. No baggage. But I had become very judicious. I had gained full knowledge of how my body worked with food. You see, I knew fully well that once I went home, my mom would make sure that I consumed food she was dying to cook for me. In Bengalis, love manifests through food you feed. No arguments there. I was even scared that I would put weight back on if I ate without judgement. But my body automatically told me how to deal with the situation, keep my mom happy and make room for homemade delights that I actually craved for when away from home. I also kept myself from jumping on to the scales for that entire week. The day I returned to Pune, I weighed myself. Surprise, surprise! Not only had I not put on weight, I had actually lost a kilo from what I was before.
I became the talk of the entire extended family. In Jan, I managed to lose two more kilos before Sanjana’s wedding. Of course how I made it to her wedding is a story for retelling on another afternoon, but I did make it to her wedding after heightened drama. She could not stop beaming when she saw me. Tanya’s shriek on seeing me was the talk of the wedding really. Everything had changed for me. For the first time in my life, I realised that people will love you when you learn to love yourself. You see I had proof in black and white to vouch for it.
It has been sometime after that now and I did put on weight again. I had another surgery and major stress-related issues. I lost a lot of people in my life since that January and to fill up that vacuum in my heart, I did what I knew worked for me. Ate. I conquered and let it go. But I managed to carry a lot of things from that phase in my life. I recognised the only people who truly cared about me and never missed a chance to encourage me when needed. I realised the strength of my will power. It dawned upon me that beauty in any form makes life beautiful. If you are beautiful outside, it complements your inner beauty and peace and helps enhance it. I stopped judging people who encouraged me to lose weight for I realised that it would be a win-win situation for me either way. I tested the power of love and was shown that love always trumps hate that some people never fail to spew. I imprinted it in my subconscious that it is only me who has the power to pick up the strain of my story at any moment and decide that it will not have a sad, undesired ending. I know I can do it. Beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder. For me, I am the beholder now. I am very happy with myself. I love myself the way I am. But I want it to get better. Here again I stand at the cusp of choices – I can either let things be and snub seeking beauty as the conspiracy of the vain or I can embrace this yearning for a better, fitter me and make the most of it. Staying this way will be convenient, of course. But here’s the thing about convenience: it wears off. It won’t be convenient for my body tomorrow with all these extra pounds if I do not do anything about it today.
The last three years have undoubtedly been tough on me. But now I can take responsibility again and say that I made bad choices which led to bad things. I let people get to me and chose to feel low and depressed about it all. I have learnt so much from all my experiences – good and bad. At the end of the day, life is what you make of it. Now, I do not need a friend’s wedding to work as motivation. I can take myself to that point of victory which I had achieved three years back because this time, it is only me I will disappoint if I do not. I do not want to disappoint me anymore. I know some people will take it upon themselves to demotivate me. But you know what, my biggest learning from this entire episode was that hatred never sticks for long for there is always that much more love. Find that love for yourself. It will help you to find your calling.